It was another solid fall for high school fastpitch softball in both Catoosa and Walker Counties.
LFO finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the state, was runner-up in the Region 6-AAA tournament and advanced to the second round of the state tournament - losing only to the state's No. 4-ranked team - while Ringgold was just one win away from punching its ticket to state.
In Class AAAA, Heritage ended up winning Region 6 and got to the second round of the state tournament, while Ridgeland and LaFayette also both made the state playoffs. All three teams also spent time ranked in the top 10 of their classification during the year.
Even better, these five schools did this with relatively young teams. LaFayette, for example, reeled off a dozen wins to begin the season and climbed all the way to a No. 2 state ranking with a brand new coaching staff and not a single senior on the roster.
Yes, the future continues to look bright for softball in our little corner of the state.
But with respect to the other five GHSA softball programs in the two-county area, we paused today to once again tip our caps to the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans.
Call them a juggernaut. Call them a dynasty. Call them an empire. Empty the thesaurus because anything along those lines will do.
The argument can easily be made that the best and most consistent fastpitch softball program in the entire state resides in Chickamauga. (Yeah, I may be a little biased having covered them all these years, but facts are facts and the results simply speak for themselves.).
The results have been well-documented, but they are worth repeating. In the past 15 seasons, Gordon Lee has played on the final day of the state tournament all 15 times. Thirteen of those times - including the last 12 in a row - they have played in the final game of the state tournament. Eight state championships, five state runner-up finishes and a pair of third-place showings since 2003.
And all under one head coach, Dana Mull.
Mull has well over 450 wins in just 15 seasons in Chickamauga with an absolutely absurd winning percentage of over .860. In addition to the success at the state level, Mull has guided her teams to 15 consecutive region championships. To put that into some perspective, the players on this year's team that aren't yet old enough to have a learners' license were not yet BORN when Mull's teams began that amazing region title streak.
And the Lady Trojans don't lose often. They haven't had double-digit losses in a single season since 2006 when they lost 11 that year. By comparison, this year's senior class suffered just 15 losses in four years (eight of them coming as freshmen), while they won 135 times.
Speaking of senior successes, try this on for size. The last nine Gordon Lee senior softball classes have played in four state championship games and the last six Gordon Lee senior softball classes have graduated with at least three state championship rings.
The only other program in the state with that type of consistency is Buford, who racked up 10 straight state titles in multiple classifications before seeing the streak end this year. The Lady Wolves made the Elite Eight in Class AAAAA, but were knocked out prior to the state championship game.
And in case you are wondering, among those 450-plus wins that Mull owns are a 2-1 victory over Buford in 2011 and a 5-0 win over the Lady Wolves in 2014.
The numbers would still be impressive, even if Gordon Lee only faced teams in their own classification. But Mull knows and has stated on numerous occasions that teams only get better by playing tougher opponents and 2017 was no exception.
Of the Lady Trojans' 32 wins, 10 came against opponents in Classes 3A-7A, including Class 7A South Paulding, Class 4A Elite Eight participant Marist and another Class 4A stalwart in Chapel Hill, who was among the top teams in the classification all season long.
They also beat Class 1A Private School state champion Wesleyan, 5-1, while their only three losses of the season came at the hands of Class 2A Social Circle and Class 7A Newman, both of whom made their respective state tournaments, along with Class 3A state champ Calhoun, who beat Gordon Lee in a 1-0, eight-inning thriller in Calhoun.
Playing that caliber of opposition prepped the Lady Trojans for their region and state tournament runs. Gordon Lee went a combined 21-0 in Region 6-A play and in the state playoffs, outscoring the opposition 180-28, holding those teams to two runs or less 18 times.
And that was accomplished in the toughest region in all of Class 1A, especially in 2017.
Every single of one of their Region 6 opponents qualified for the state tournament, either in the Public or Private School Division, while the four Public School Division teams - Gordon Lee, Trion, Mt. Zion and Bowdon - all advanced to the Elite Eight in Columbus. In fact, no team from any other region of the state beat any of the four teams from Region 6 during the three days they were in Columbus.
There are plenty of other successful softball programs in the state, some that can even be consider elite. But simply put, it doesn't any better than the Gordon Lee Lady Trojans, who have defined dominance for going on two decades now. They have raised the bar, they continue to raise the bar and they remain the gold standard for what fastpitch programs aspire to be.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The names and faces may change when it comes to Gordon Lee softball, but the tradition and expectations remain the same, as does the success.
Well done ladies. Very well done.
Scott Herpst in the Sports Editor for the Catoosa County News and the Walker County Messenger.